After the funeral, families share a meal at church
"We open up the church and provide a meal for any church member who loses an immediate family member," said Jim Duggan, pastor of the church in Macon, Ga. "This gives them the chance to just be together in those times with family. They don't have to worry about hosting a large group at their house, getting the food together and cleaning up."
On that day, the family in mourning gains an added level of kin when they arrive at Bellevue's fellowship hall. Everyone knows Peggy Webb will bring her deviled eggs. Willie Calanchi will show up with her coconut cake. Willie's husband Ernie will drive to the local Publix with Bill Griffin, whose wife Barbara chairs the committee to get enough chicken for everyone. Assorted casseroles and vegetable are going to be there, too. Leftovers will fill Styrofoam plates to carry home.
The committee of five couples and three individuals plans the meal and makes sure enough will be there for everyone. Word gets around in the tight-knit fellowship to get food to the church at the appropriate date.
Though the committee handles the logistics, the ministry itself becomes church-wide. If the family chooses not to have a gathering at the church, a donation is made to Bellevue's building fund in honor of the deceased.
Having performed 29 funerals in his three years at Bellevue, Duggan often sees how the bereavement ministry helps families deal with their loss.
"You hear family stories about that person. Instead of a preacher talking about them, the testimony comes from their relatives. It's there in the interactions and the times they shared. You see firsthand their impact on others through fond memories.
"There's usually a lot of laughter. The time of crying and deep grief is the funeral. The time at our church is one of being together and remembering," Duggan said.
Duggan also learns something about Bellevue's members as well. Last October he and others came together to celebrate the life of church member Iris Crews. Her husband Ron served on the search committee that eventually called Duggan to Bellevue. Still, Duggan had no idea Iris -- a Memphis, Tenn., native -- had once met Elvis Presley and Cybill Shepherd.
A year ago, Duggan felt the personal impact of the ministry with the death of his mother.
"She wasn't one of our church members, but they took care of us. My aunts and uncles who don't live in Macon commented on how meaningful it was for them. It made an impression on them to see a church care for their pastor like that."
Though not the case with his family, Duggan noted the impact the bereavement ministry can have on unbelievers at a relative's funeral. "Every family has that member who's lost his or her way from the Lord. You never know how an expression of love and concern can bring them back."
And for those such as himself who are unaccustomed to receiving such kindness, Duggan testifies to its impact.
"It was comforting for me, yet uncomfortable. It's unusual for me to be the recipient. The tangible display of love and care for my family was very touching. It's one of the reasons I love my church so much."